The International Improvisation Competition is one of the most important parts of the Organ Festival. The improvisation competition consists of a preliminary round for which a recording of improvisations is required, and 3 rounds in Haarlem in which the participants must not only improvise solo but also with another discipline or together with another musician.

The Improvisation Competition is open to professional organists with concert improvisation experience. There is no age limit.

From around twenty entries, a jury consisting of Berry van Berkum (also a jury member of the competition in 2024), Geerten Liefting (winner of the Haarlem Improvisation Competition in 2016) and Ansgar Wallenhorst (member of the Artistic Council, chairman of the jury in 2024) were selected. , chaired by Peter Ouwerkerk (festival leader and chairman of the Artistic Council), selected the following participants in an anonymous session:

Sebastian Benetello (D)
Marcel Eliasch (D)
Enno Grohn (D)
Bernhard Hauk (D)
David Kiefer (D)
Raphael Oliver (F)
David Stultz (United States)

The eighth participant is the winner of the National Organ Competition that will be held on June 26 during the Dordrecht Bach Festival.

Download here the improvisation assignments and themes that were requested for the preliminary round.

The 3 rounds in July 2024 will take place on:

  • Monday, July 15 on the Jürgen Ahrend organ in the Mennonite Church
  • Wednesday, July 17 at the Adema organ in the Joseph Church
  • Friday, July 19 on the Christiaan Müller organ in the Grote or St. Bavo Church.

The jury of the International Improvisation Competition in 2024 will consist of:

  • Jean-Baptiste Robin (F)
  • Berry van Berkum (NL)
  • Zsigmond Szathmáry (H/D)
  • Maria Alejandra Castro Espejo (Peru/NL)
  • Monika Melcová (SK/ES)
  • Ansgar Wallenhorst (D, chairman)


There are three prizes to be won: a jury prize (€5.000, made available by the Piet Kee Foundation), an audience prize (€1.000) and a prize for the best improvisation of the competition (€500). In addition to the cash prize, the winner of the jury prize will also receive an original pen drawing of the Bavo organ and will be offered a series of concerts around the world.

Excellence Class for Improvisation

In the run-up to the competition, a special special event was held for the first time on Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 March 2024. Excellence Class for Improvisation held.

This Excellence Class for Improvisation is a new initiative of the Haarlem Organ Festival with the aim of creating a laboratory-like environment to explore the boundaries of improvisation, without losing the connection with craftsmanship. The Excellence Class was created in preparation for the Improvisation Competition.

De Excellence Class for Improvisation took place on the organs of the Mennonite Church (Jürgen Ahrend) and the Grote or St. Bavo Church (Christian Müller) in Haarlem. During this two-day event with master classes, lectures, discussions and recitals, top improvisers Franz Danksagmüller (D), Zuzana Ferjenčíková (A) and Thomas Lacôte (F) shared their experience in helping young organists find their own musical path. A final concert was part of the program.

The main topics were:

°Form & freedom
°Idiom & intuition
°Creativity & boundaries
°Innovation & craftsmanship

De Excellence Class for Improvisation was open to organ students at conservatories and institutes of comparable level worldwide, and to graduated professional organists with concert experience in improvisation. Attending the event as a passive listener was also possible.

Based on letters of recommendation and submitted recordings, the following international organists were invited to participate in this Excellence Class:

Guilherme de Almeida
Sebastian Benetello
Michał Botor
Hendrik Burkard
Jack Day
Clement François
Bernhard Hauk
David Kiefer
Mariusz Kozieł
Jakob Schönborn-Dietz
Harmen Trimp


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